poniedziałek, 2 lipca 2007

How to do the big offers in public sector

Mood: Tired as hell

Going through two big offering processes for a public sector, I want to share with you my experience about the best practices, which worked/should work in this type of events. I define the big offers as the one worth more than 1 million EUR.

Offering is usually a big effort of all members of consortium (set of companies), who has to create the offer in the very short time (there is always not enough time). It is the exciting thing to do, however very responsible as well, because it is quite easy to make a very small mistake, which will have big consequences afterwards. I would say that this is kind of “extreme project management” for small project, which is about defining the technical vision of the big project. Unfortunately, word “extreme”, does not come from “extreme programming”, but more from “extreme effort” :)

If you are green in this area as I was 2 months ago, I hope it will bring you a lot of value and you will avoid a few booby traps like the one on the left. If you are experienced, I would be grateful for your comments.

The most important thing is to have proper and engaged people on the board. The offering team should consist of:
  • Offer manager
    He is responsible mainly for the communication and tracking the work progress. He should not do any job physically as at any time, he can be called on the meeting in a separate place or he will have to initiate such a separate meeting himself.
  • Assistant of offer manager
    He has to be prepared at any time to take over a role of offer manager, when necessary.
  • Writer(s)
    They are physically reviewing all the incoming materials and they are responsible just for the syntax and vocabulary (not for the content). If there is more than one writer, there is always the one, who is the chief of the group and he is reviewing all the work ensuring the consistency of the vocabulary.
  • Specialization teams, which include technical people, lawyers and especially merchantmen
    These teams are creating the content of the offer.

The role of the offer manager is to ensure the offering boardroom during the offering time. It should provide:

  • Internet connection
  • Possibility to make domestic and international conference calls
  • A lot of coffe

All the meetings should happen in one and the same place, so when people learn how to get there, how to use facilities and when they get used to it, they do not need to go to the other place afterwards.

At each bigger meeting there should be:

  • The agenda of the meeting before the meeting, so people can be prepared; however when the execution time comes be flexible in this area
  • Even when you are flexible, have one person responsible for tracking the time of the meeting and to blow the whistles when delay comes
  • There is one writer doing the note from the meeting and passing it afterwards to all participants to provide the flow of the information and keep information stock consistent
  • At the first meeting ensure that every member of the team introduces himself shortly saying his name, position and role in the offering process
  • When one or two new person appears the offer manager should introduce them shortly to the team and backwards
  • When there is more than two new persons, the whole process should be repeated
    Collect the contacts information into contacts list

Some golden rules

  1. Everything starts from the consortium agreement usually where you split the work and responsibility – do it according to the tender and be careful about drawing the border line between partners, to avoid the situation where some topics on the border and not covered, because nobody thought it is his responsible. The “dropped ball” is the most annoying thing during the offering process.
  2. There is one and only one offer manager, who is taking all the most important decisions about the offer and the responsibility for it as well.
  3. As soon as possible create the delivery products list – these are sets of products, which you are going to deliver like for example: software, hardware, installation, training, support etc.
  4. Basing on products list split the work to teams and establish ONE person responsible for the team effort, give him tasks and track it.
  5. There should be some document and lists repository available for all the offering members - it is great if it can be visible through the internet in the secure way.
  6. Make the risk list, keep it updated and assign one person to each of risk list item to manage it as long as it exists. Risk can be for example the ISV who does not respond for the whole day, conflicts between teams, lack of milk to coffee, green member of the offering team. Within the risk list there should be some decision column, where each decision established after longer discussion should enlisted along with the explanation why it is as it is; it was the effect the compromise or the offer manager decision, it should be also enlisted.
  7. Keep one contact list to all key persons within the offering process.
  8. Prepare the offer template as soon as possible, provide it to technical writer and track the progress of filling it in.
  9. Do reviews. The output from it should be one consistent message to everybody on which stage you are. It does not need to be done always as face-to-face meeting, but it must happen to ensure proper workload.
  10. Train copywriters and say them to use the language from the offer specification as far as possible. They should create and maintain the common vocabulary list where you put the common names for the things in the offer – this is done to avoid naming the same thing in the different way. It happens often if you have multicultural, multi-language consortium. Try to collect as much already done materials as possible and attach them to the offer – for example if description about the project management is required; do not write it from scratch.
  11. Keep the all teams motivated, but do not be afraid to chill somebody out if the one is too excited. There will be some nervous moments, but keep the whole thing fun as well (at least from time to time), to avoid burn out.
  12. Each email should be send to at least two persons, so it is not missed (offer manager and assistant mainly)
  13. Keep focus! Remember that your target is to create the offer – you are not paid for creating technical specification, finding problems and inconsistency in the offer specification.
  14. Your offer will be scored using the criterias provided in the offer specification and nobody will care at first stage what kind of amazing solutions have you created inside. Usually the biggest share of the critieria is price, so the approach “what is not in the offer, is not provided at all” is the best. Usually the one with the cheapest price wins – we do not like it, but this is how it works.
  15. On the other hand, when you win it, you will have to do it and usually you do it for profit (there are exceptions from the rule), so you can not miss anything from the offer specification what is your cost or underestimate it. This is quite reasonable to provide some additional margin for the “unknown” costs; quite often this happens in profit margin.
  16. The best way to establish the PRICE of the offer is to establish first the COST of the offer (collected from all the consortiants) and then, at the end the executives committee should establish one or couple of profit margin(s) establishing the PRICE.
  17. If crisis management is necessary – sit down with the most trustful coworkers, develop the rescue mission plan and just do it! Do not look for the defaulter (there will be time for it after the deadline during the postmortem meeting) - Make the offer happen!
  18. Do final review. There has to be one guy, who is put aside from the whole process. Couple of days before the delivery time, he gets the offer specification and he does the final offer review, just to ensure that there are not some really stupid mistakes, which happens often when people are working too heavy, too long and too late.
  19. You can not do one thing – you can not to not place the offer; if you pass the offer to the issuer 5’ after the delivery time, he can say you simply NO WAY. So remember to be there at least 30’ before.
  20. After the offer happens do the short post-mortem meeting and discuss for a moment, what could be done better and what has been done in the smart way; who was the star and who did not perform well.


If asking the questions to the offer is possible, then it is totally a new part of the whole game. As mentioned before, there needs to be ONE person responsible for collecting questions. Questions have to be asked in the particular way:

  • It has to be very precise. If you are going to ask the general question, the orderer will send you back to the offer specification
  • If you are sure that there is some inconsistency in the offer specification or lack of information, delicately suggest better answer for you
  • Do not put the questions in the way, which shows some unique solutions of your offer (for example that you are going to use the virtualization) as it will be visible for your competitors
  • Ask as many questions as you can, because answers may truly surprise you

When the questions are passed to the orderer they are passed from ALL the offerors and ALL the answers are passed to ALL offerors. This is why during the review meeting ALL the answers has to be reviewed with everybody to ensure the common vision of the offer.


First meeting is about establishing the offering team. It should include:

  • Starting negotiations about the consortium agreement and taking the decision if it is kept formal or unformal (rule 1).
  • Presenting the offer manager (mentioning rule 2), his assistant and main technical writer.
  • Key persons in the offering process (team leaders) should have already read the offer specification and the meeting is also about ensuring that it happened.
  • Some first rough work split should be done
  • ONE person should be responsible for creating the products list mentioned in rule 4.
  • If it is allowed to ask the questions to the offer specification the rules about collecting them (ONE writer responsible for that) and reviewing the answers should be established
    instruct your writers (rule 10)
  • General schedule of the offering process must be done
  • Information about documents and list repository should be passed (rule 5) and the way to use it
  • Establish what has to be done to make the offer template (rule 8) and if possible assign ONE person responsible for it

Review meetings are about

  • Check if you have the offer template (rule 8)
  • Review work status (rule 9) - basing on the template of the offer, the work progress is calculated (it can be done by writer)
  • Ensure that people are doing what they should do (rule 13-15)
  • Review risks list
  • Assign new tasks
  • Review answers if they are available

Closing meetings happens when the dead line is close and there is more and more rush - if you have seen a "Heat" movie... this is the final battle:

  • Assign additional resources if some particular area is neglected or delayed (rule 17)
  • Do the final review (rule 18)
  • Try to perfect the offer from main criteria point of view (the most often price – rule 14)
  • Ensure that offer is real (rule 15)

During the closing time it happens quite often that at the last stage in some area you have to put the technology statement or the price without the proper knowledge. The only reasonable approach than is to add some risk factor and make the thing happen. Better you are prepared, less of such things you have to do.

And of course when the dead-line comes you are well prepared and there is no surprises at all :)

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